Certain Foods Contributing To Infertility
Infertility, or the inability get pregnant, seems to be more common
in women with untreated celiac disease, based on a variety of studies
in different countries. Other gynecological and obstetrical problems
may also be more common, including miscarriages and preterm births.
Men with untreated disease may also face fertility issues. Although
these problems were not always recognized as being related to celiac
disease by doctors and other health professionals, this situation
is starting to change.
Women with celiac disease are reported to start having periods
later and stop menstruating earlier than average. They also suffer
more often from secondary amenorrhea, a condition in which menses
start but then stop. Together, these menstrual disorders lead
to fewer ovulations, which results in less of a chance to get
pregnant. Hormonal factors and poor nutrition are thought to play
a role in causing these problems.
For men, problems can include abnormal sperm such as lower
sperm numbers, altered shape, and reduced function. Men with untreated
celiac disease may also have lower testosterone levels.
Of course, for both men and women, how often a couple has intercourse
affects fertility. If someone feels lousy from untreated celiac
disease, infrequent sexual activity may be contributing to the
problem. One study from Italy suggests that sexual relations occurred
less often when one partner had active celiac disease compared
with couples in which the partners celiac disease was being
Once a woman with active celiac disease does conceive, other
problems that can arise during the pregnancy include miscarriages
and smaller babies because of preterm delivery or delayed growth
in the uterus. These conditions are reported to be more common
in women with untreated celiac disease, though miscarriages have
many causes and occur in up to one-fourth of all pregnancies.
Nonetheless, I would recommend that if a woman has repeated miscarriages
or is unable to conceive, consideration should be given to screening
her for celiac disease by antibody testing (see my earlier posting,
Confirming a Diagnosis of Celiac Disease).
Indeed, there are many causes of infertility, miscarriages and
small babies besides unrecognized celiac disease, and some studies
have failed to show that the risks of these problems are actually
increased by untreated celiac disease. Larger and better-devised
studies are needed.
Still, my own clinical experience suggests that infertility and
smaller or preterm babies are more common in women with untreated
celiac disease than those without. I am sure some of our readers
can share their own experiences in this regard. And the good news
is that with proper treatment with a gluten-free diet and correction
of nutritional deficiencies, the prognosis for future pregnancies
is much improved.
Dr. Sheila Crowe, a professor in the division of gastroenterology
and hepatology in the department of medicine at the University
of Virginia, recently joined the Consults blog
to answer reader questions about celiac disease, an often
overlooked digestive disorder that causes damage to the small
intestine when gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye,
February 5, 2010